“So, where are all the men?” Bill Stump, panel moderator and Senior Vice President and Executive Director at Rodale, jokingly asked upon entering the room for the “Magazines as Multi-Platform Brands” panel discussion on the first day of the Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) at NYU. (Like the publishing industry itself, the student body at SPI is largely female.) After a laugh, 105 publishing students, Bill Stump and four executives from influential national magazines settled in to discuss the power and importance of the brand. On hand for the conversation: Doug Brod, Editor of SPIN; Kristen Schultz Dollard, Digital Director of SELF; Mia Haugen, Managing Editor of Forbes; and Elizabeth Mayhew, VP and Editor-in-Chief of Brand Content at Woman’s Day.The panelists emphasized the importance of “knowing your brand,” focusing on what your magazine stands for, and always keeping it at the forefront of your mind when making any decision—whether it’s choosing a tiny picture for the table of contents or the subject of the cover story. It was emphasized repeatedly that it’s essential to branding to know what your readers want when they open up the magazine or log onto the website.
The panelists emphasized over and over the importance of multiple brand components and singled out their websites as crucial. As Mia Haugen aptly put it: “You want to reach the widest possible audience.” Added Kristen Schultz Dollard: “I really think you’re vulnerable if you’re not doing everything.”
In addition to sharing their career histories and huge successes, some of the panelists also let us in on the rare instances when they really messed up in terms of not sticking to their brand. Doug Brod of SPIN offered a story about what he had thought was a fabulous decision to put Courtney Love on the cover of one of their special 25th anniversary issues (March 2010), believing she would be a huge draw on the newsstand. The issue tanked, probably, he felt, because Love’s personal history was too negative for SPIN’s readers. Through this experience, Brod says he learned an important lesson about making sure he knew everything about his readers and their tastes.
Elizabeth Mayhew of Woman’s Day presented a similar story, explaining how she made the blunder of removing the monthly “Bible Quote” from the magazine, thinking no one would miss it. It turned out that the quote was a highly popular feature of the magazine, and its loss generated a storm of mail from readers who wanted it back. Of course, Mayhew quickly realized her mistake and reinstated the quote.
As the panelists energetically discussed their brands, I found myself thinking about their personalities and how they dressed. The closer I looked, the more I noticed that the brand they were presenting to us was reflected in their own manner and dress. Doug Brod came in a tie and jeans and looked rather hip. Mia Haugen had a relatively serious demeanor and was dressed in a conservative, black, professional outfit very much in conjunction with the Forbes brand, which she described as “Smart, Rich, Famous, Driven.” In contrast, SELF’s Kristen Dollard was definitely fit and stylish in a colorful print dress.
At the beginning of the day, when Donna Sapolin, the Magazine Director at SPI, asked who didn’t know what a brand was, most hands went up. But by the end of the day, thanks to our panel, we were all experts. Or so we thought!
by Sarah Lawler